By Peter Bodo, TENNIS, September 1984

After Mats Wilander won his first match of the 1983 U.S. Open, he rendered a curious prophecy. He laconically confessed that he gave himself little chance to win the tournament, horrifying a press corps that is unaccustomed to such frankness. Contemplating the incident, the 20-year-old Swede now remarks: “I said that the same way a newsman, or a coach, might say it. After all, only one guy can win. I analyzed my chances and I didn’t feel like a good choice for the title. I was just trying to be honest.”

Once before, Wilander had garnered headlines as a result of his honesty. In the semifinals of the 1982 French Open, while he was still an unknown youth, Wilander held a match point against heavily favoured José-Luis Clerc. When a Clerc groundstroke was called out, ostensibly ending the match, the Argentine protested. Wilander interceded on his opponent’s behalf and the point was replayed. Wilander went on to win the match and to rock the entire tennis community as he became, at age 17, the youngest male winner in the history of a Grand Slam tournament. The gesture towards Clerc has haunted Wilander ever since, but the excesses of youth are in ebb.

“When you do things a little different, it gets too much attention”, he says. “Then you have to do too many extra interviews. From now on when I’m asked how I’ll do in a tournament, I’m just going to say I have a good chance. And I’m not going to change any more calls. I’m 20 now. I’m a professional.”

However, this is no elegy on the passing of virtue or the loss of innocence in Wilander. The “professional” who will be trying to solve the puzzle of tennis on medium-fast cement at the U.S. Open this month has matured and grown wiser to the world, but his character has not been deformed by success. With diligence, dignity and style, Wilander has entrenched himself in the world’s top four. In fact, the cool youth almost snatched the world’s no. 1 ranking right from the hands of John McEnroe late last year.

In a surprise that rivaled Wilander’s victory at the 1982 French Open, he closed the 1983 campaign by winning the Australian Open. He accomplished it, moreover, by toppling McEnroe in the semifinals and Ivan Lendl in the final. At the end of the calendar year, thus, Wilander found himself holding three victories over McEnroe on three different surfaces in three distinguished events: the French Open (clay), the ATP Championships in Cincinnati (cement) and the Australian Open (grass). There were some who argued that entitled him to the world’s top ranking.

To many spectators, particularly Americans, Wilander is an unheralded force in the game, and a virtually unknown face outside pro shops or tennis clubs. “I’ve never played really well in the big American tournaments, so I understand why I’m not so recognized”, he says. “That doesn’t bother me so much because I try not to be too complicated. And in a way it’s good, because I like to be as free as possible.”

As a tennis player, Mats Wilander is a classic model. He is our sport’s version of the mint julep, the wooden boat or the button-fly blue jean. Wilander is not an athletic specimen sculpted on the same heroic scale as Yannick Noah, nor a riveting theatrical presence such as McEnroe. He lacks the fire of Jimmy Connors and the ice of Lendl. Wilander is lithe, quick and fluid, a triumph of proportions. His olive complexion and pale blue eyes belie Wilander’s Swedish nationality. In tennis whites, his bearing is placid and aristocratic. He is the son of Einar and Karin Wilander, both of whom are factory workers.

The contradiction implied by Wilander’s appearance and background are not accidental. They are intrinsic to his personality as a tennis player, a classic tennis player created by a system and conditions that are anything but classic. “Tennis used to be for another class of people, but now it’s become very popular”, Wilander observes. “It’s now the third most popular sport in Sweden.”

The tale of Wilander’s success is also the history of a national effort to transcend on a great scale the usual social and economic boundaries associated with the sport. Bjorn Borg broke the ground from which Wilander and a host of other Swedish pros sprang. Tennis development programs burgeoned throughout the country in the wake of Borg’s success. Such free national programs, and the team concept that evolved from them, represent a radical departure from tennis traditions. The Swedes have developed a “socialized” tennis that challenges the assumption that, at its highest level, tennis is a Darwinian jungle patrolled by solitary creatures.

Wilander himself says: “I don’t think I would have the results of the last two or three years if I didn’t have the team situation. And I think it made success easier to handle.”

Wilander’s career germinated in his hometown of Torpsbruk, where Einar Wilander worked in a factory adjacent to a neglected macadam tennis court. Working in their spare time, Einar and some of his friends made the court playable.

Wilander’s talent began to flourish when the family moved to nearby Vaxjo, where the tennis facilities were more elaborate. Although Wilander’s first love was ice hockey, the tide soon turned in favor of tennis, pleasing Einar Wilander. “My father loves the game”, his son reports, “Even today, he goes down to the town tennis courts every night after work to watch the game even if the players aren’t good.”

At the age of 15 Wilander quit school to pursue a tennis career. It would be inspirational to report that he did it for reasons of economic hardship, but such was not the case. The Wilanders lived a comfortable life in socialist Sweden. As Wilander’s agent, Jean-Noel Bioul of the International Management Group notes: “The basic standards in Sweden are pretty high. Social differences show up mostly in matters of taste – not in the house you live in, but the curtains you choose.”

Young Wilander developed quickly under the auspices of the Swedish junior program. He won the French junior title in 1981 at age 16. A few weeks after that event, Swedish coach John-Anders Sjogren convinced a Swedish building firm, SIAB, to finance a team of outstanding prospects: Wilander, Joakim Nystrom, Hans Simonsson and Anders Jarryd. “We started the team just before Wimbledon”, Sjogren recalls, “mostly because none of them could volley and that looked like a big problem. My job as coach was simple – teach each one to hit a volley.”

There was another, less technical reason for forming Team SIAB. Inundating foreign shores with a flood of junior talent from an isolated Scandinavian nation was a costly proposition, and the prospect of providing the youngsters with adequate coaching and chaperones was equally grim. There were other specific barriers and conditions that made the team concept viable. As Sjogren explains: “The team idea owes a lot to the fact that we are a small country with our own language and a long winter that has always given the Swedes a tendency to stay together. We like the team idea. It suits our national character.”

Wilander flourished in the team atmosphere. “Mats is a very loyal person, maybe the best person among the players I know”, says Swedish journalist Bjorn Hellberg. “Even after he won the French Open, he would still go home and play matches for his club in the Swedish league. That’s the kind of guy he is. He likes that spirit of friendship. He always goes out to watch the matches of his team mates, even in doubles. Mats is an extremely kind person.”

Although the original Team SIAB has broken up, Wilander still travels and practices with its constituents. He’s also now a member of the Club Med-Rossignol touring pro team. “I know it’s unusual for a player in the top four to be so close to other players”, he says. “But then I’m the youngest one so high in the rankings. It’s always been important for me to walk into a dressing-room and have somebody to talk to.”

The Swedes form a distinct group within the fragmented society of pro tennis. They are as conspicuous and insular as Japanese tourists. Because they don’t do a great deal of mixing, the Swedes often remain provincial. After practice, they play soccer using a tennis ball and the service boxes. They go to movies or out to dinner together.

The week before Wimbledon this year, the Swedes observed their national tradition of holding a party on the eve of the summer solstice. Then, they travelled to central London to dine together. Wilander explains: “We have been traveling and doing things together since the age of 13 or 14 and it has just stayed that way. It’s comfortable.”

Lately, Wilander has been paying a higher price for the benefits of camaraderie. In the first half of this year, he lost important matches to Swedish players, most of them friends. Wilander was beaten by Stefan Edberg in the final at Milan and twice by Henrik Sundstrom, in the final at Monte Carlo and in the semis at Hamburg. “It’s easier for the other Swedes to beat Mats”, Sjogren admits, “They know him so well that there isn’t that tension you feel with a stranger, that fear.”

Wilander is aware of the condition, but maintains that he has never entertained notions of divorce in the interests of better results against his fellow Swedes. He is not even convinced that, in the big picture, withdrawing from his friends would improve his results.

“It does matter to me that I have lost to the other Swedes”, he admits. “But you just don’t care as much about winning or losing if you are playing with a close friend. The one thing I know for certain is that when I’m not in a good mood, I can’t play good tennis. I need to feel harmony. To just go and hit tennis balls, staying apart from everybody, that would be boring for me. I think I would lose my interest in the game.”

The allegiances developed through his participation in a nationally administered tennis program, and the security bred by team identification during his formative years as a pro, had a profound impact on Wilander. They imbued him with a highly cultivated social sense and a much greater capacity for group identification than most of his rivals show. “Maybe the team idea has taken away a little from the killer instinct”, says Hellberg. “That is one of the ways Mats is different from Borg, who was always alone.”

With the dissolution of the original Team SIAB and the emergence of Wilander as a player of the first rank, the bonds of team fidelity are being tested. During the French Open, Wilander broke with tradition and stayed at a different hotel from his friends. Sjogren has been trying to expand Wilander’s range of practice partners to keep complacency and lack of variety from eroding his form. As Bioul puts it: “It would be great for Mats to practice with a (Guillermo) Vilas here or a (Vitas) Gerulaitis there.”

The recent losses to Swedish players and the growing financial security of Wilander (a Monaco resident now for tax reasons) have raised questions lately about his motivation. Critics suggest that his situation is too secure from every angle. Wilander does not bridle at the charges. “To tell the truth, I think now I could be happy with an ordinary job. I know I did something in tennis and I’m proud of it. With two Grand Slam titles I could be content if I left the game.”

“I have the drive to be on top, too, but to me it doesn’t feel right to be so serious about it. Let’s face it: there are 50 players who believe they can be no.1 and ten who maybe could do it.”

“I never expected to be in the top 10. When I made the top 80, enabling me to get straight into Grand Prix tournaments, I thought it was incredible. Then I couldn’t believe it when I made the top 50. I once felt that if I won the French Open I would achieve everything I wanted in tennis. But after I won it didn’t seem to matter that much. The feeling goes away soon after you’ve won. In fact, the joy of winning dies down to about 10 percent by the time you finish your shower. The best moment – the real moment – is the time between the last point and the handshake.”

Like many restrained and well-mannered Europeans, Wilander seems intimidated by the scale of the U.S. He seems puzzled by the friendly, loud, unsophisticated citizenry, surprised at the general lack of culture and uninterested by what he describes as “cities that all look the same and all the new houses, like little boxes.” Wilander adds: “The attitude in the States seems to be “take whatever you can.” I don’t get the feeling that people care as much about each other. On the other hand, people aren’t as jealous as in Europe. They don’t resent your success as much.”

Along with many other European pros, Wilander regards the U.S. Open with skepticism and thinly-veiled disdain. “The difference between Flushing Meadow and Wimbledon is night and day”, he says. “Wimbledon is perfect to play tennis in, while Flushing Meadow is just the opposite, like playing in an airport. Flushing Meadow lacks tradition.”

Like Borg, Wilander has found that adapting to tennis on cement poses distinct problems. It is different from, but no less challenging than, adjusting to clay or grass courts. “Mats should play well on any fast surface because he has a good service return”, Sjogren says. “If you have good ground strokes, good physical conditioning, you should play well on any surface. Usually the rest is a matter of your returns.”

Sjogren points out that Wilander is not a “volley-killer”, maintaining that his protégé won the Australian title by keeping his own volleys in court and successfully converting more passing shots than his opponents. “On cement”, Sjogren maintains, “You have to step into the court more and kill any ball in the midcourt area. The power and mentality you need for that is not natural to Matsie.”

Wilander at his best is a master of containment, a man whose precision and consistency keeps his opponents from generating any kind of attacks. To some observers he is “boring”, but that charge stems from a shallow view of his style. “I’ve thought about the philosophy of baseline tennis a few times”, Wilander says. “And the way I see it, if you’re a serve-and-volley guy, you give the other players a good chance to win every point. Taking risks and being picked apart isn’t the most positive kind of aggression. Connors is the most aggressive player I’ve ever seen and he doesn’t play serve-and-volley tennis.”

To Wilander, tennis on cement requires difficult, spontaneous decisions. The relentless attack by the server is not as profitable as it is on grass. “It’s difficult to tell on cement what ball to come in on”, Wilander says. “Also the courts are consistent and high-bouncing; my serve isn’t good enough so that I can always come in on it. On grass, a consistent first serve is good enough. On cement, you have to hit the big one.”

Wilander was able to serve rocks as he took the ATP Champion-ships on cement just before the U.S. Open last year, but he maintains the result was deceptive. “I won the tournament because it was the best week I had serving in my life. But that didn’t make me a complete cement player, and it was wrong to relate the Cincinnati result to the Open because the courts at Flushing Meadow are much, much faster.”

The vital role played by Wilander’s serve provides a general key to his game. Against players such as Noah, Lendl and even McEnroe, Wilander is reminiscent of a light heavyweight who fights up in the heavyweight division. Although he plays with less abandon than Connors, Wilander is no less reliant on mobility and reflexive counter-punching. He hits off his toes, thinks in motion and puts a fence round most opponents’ ambitions.

Lately, Wilander’s energetic game has taken a toll on his lean body. Through the first half of 1984, he suffered ankle and wrist injuries that taught him not to take sound health for granted. Consequently, freedom from injury has become a top priority for Wilander. He was eagerly awaiting Flushing Meadow as an event in which he would be completely fit. The 1984 U.S. Open loomed as Wilander’s best chance to reassert his sovereignity, particularly if he can survive a confrontation with McEnroe.

In selecting a world’s no.1 after the 1984 Masters, one panel chose McEnroe by a split vote. “I’m not playing tennis to be selected no.1,” Wilander insists. “I’m playing to show myself what I can do. On the other hand, they chose McEnroe and it’s nice to know that I beat him three times last year on three different surfaces.”

Contemplating the Champion’s Ball that he missed this spring when the world’s no. 1 man and woman pros were honoured, Wilander adds that “I’m glad I didn’t have to dance, that’s all.”

Djokovic and Wawrinka

Thanks to Peg, who covered the Cincinnati Masters for Tennis Buzz, a few pictures of players practicing:

Sam Stosur:

cincytennis day 3 batch 1 633

Svetlana Kuznetsova:

cincytennis day 3 batch 1 598

Lucie Safarova:

Lucie Safarova

Jelena Jankovic:

Jelena Jankovic

Jelena Jankovic
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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

At the Western and Southern Open, I saw lines for autograph signings stretching out from the Midwest Sports tent (where Berdych was stationed Monday morning) and the Western and Southern tent (where ticketed signings were conducted with Sharapova, Murray, Wozniacki, and others).

line for Berdych autographs

line for autographs

The crowds at the entrance to the players’ center were thick at the start of the week, but thinned out considerably by the second and third rounds. The marshals no longer needed to move the barriers (to clear a path to the entrance) each time a recognizable player approached.

Martina Hingis

Gilles Simon

Recognizability wasn’t always a criteria with the autograph hunters. Near the entrance, I overheard one child ask another, “Who is she?” as the rest of the crowd called out, “Sam! Sam!” During the first round of qualifying, I watched a gaggle of kids gather at the far gate of Court 7 after Teymuraz Gabashvili suddenly won his match (Jimmy Wang having retired in the third set after just one game, with a right leg problem). Some of the girls had been watching Jelena Jankovic practice over on Court 8, running over when their guardian gestured to them. When Gabashvili left the court through the center gate instead of the far gate, the kids chased after him:

children chasing after Gabashvili

After they obtained his signature, two teenagers walked past me, looking at the balls he’d signed for them. One said to the other, “So what’s his name?” “Oh, we’ll never know.” Then they caught sight of the scoreboard and tried to sound out “Gabashvili.”

Who knew that Adrian Mannarino was so popular?

autographs and selfies

The tournament prides itself on offering plenty of non-tennis diversions (the headline for one ad reads, “Not a tennis fanatic? Not a problem”). Among its many committees is a crew of horticulture volunteers. In tandem with LaMond Design, the official landscape company of the tournament, they planted thousands of flowers (mostly annuals) around the tennis center before the tournament started.

Flowers at the Western & Southern Open

Flowers at the Western & Southern Open

There were two plant sales that I know of at the end of the tournament. One was to the volunteers, and one was to the public (with proceeds going to the Mason High School boys’ tennis team). I returned to the center near the end of the sale to see what “everything must go!” looked like:

cincy tennis plant sale 006

at the end of the tournament

Here’s a last look at the flowers as they were, after the Wednesday night session:

at the end of the evening session

More reports from Cincinnati:
On the way to the Western & Southern Open
The Western & Southern Open main draw party
Friday evening at Lindner Family Tennis Center
Seeking relief from the heat
Proximity
Interviews and Press Conferences
The Mixed Zone

Steve Johnson

At the Western and Southern Open, the “mixed zone” is an area to the left of the entrance to the players’ lounge. The windows are similar to the backdrop in the main interview room, so that the logos of the tours and the sponsors appear in the photos and broadcasts of interviews conducted there. This doesn’t always go accordingly to plan, however — such as, for instance, when Benoit Paire plays what I’m told was a stinker of a match and just wants to go home. He had been scheduled for a “win or lose” interview in the mixed zone, however, so the French journalist I had been waiting with followed Paire to the parking lot and asked his questions while Paire changed his shirt:

Benoit Paire

Steve Johnson, the winner of the match, arrived in the mixed zone a few minutes later. He discussed baseball with an ATP staff member while waiting for the session to begin. Nick McCarvel then conducted a “Tennis Moments” interview, and there was time for me to add questions about conditions (like others, Steve said the ball was “light” and “flying” out there, and that the “pretty fast” surface suited him well) and the recent change in D-1 college tennis scoring (he’d heard about it from his coach only two hours earlier, and thinks it will be interesting — it will create excitement, and it will be good to see guys learning how to play pressure points).

Steve Johnson

Like Johnson, Safarova had not appeared on the preliminary interview schedule, but I’m guessing some requests had been filed by the time she and Venus began the decider:

Lucie Safarova

I’d peeked in on the end of Julien Benneteau‘s match on Court 9, and I barely beat him to the mixed zone.

Julien Benneteau

His interview was entirely in French. Wawrinka‘s was mostly in French:

Stan Wawrinka

Vasek Pospisil drew a half-dozen of us, and we were instructed to limit ourselves to one or two questions each.

Vasek Pospisil

There were often cries for autographs from nearby fans after the interviews. Some players ignored the clamoring and head straight inside, and others answered the pleas:

Lucie Safarova

More reports from Cincinnati:
On the way to the Western & Southern Open
The Western & Southern Open main draw party
Friday evening at Lindner Family Tennis Center
Seeking relief from the heat
Proximity
Interviews and Press Conferences

Taylor Townsend

Peg is covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Buzz. Enjoy her behind the scenes of the tournament (more to come!):

At the Western and Southern Open, interviews are conducted in a variety of settings, including on the ESPN stage, which was set up Sunday morning:

broadcasting stage

By mid-week, swarms of spectators crowded around the broadcasting tent whenever a post-match interview was in progress, craning their necks to see Serena and other stars:

crowd craning to see Serena

There are also on-court interviews, interviews in the mixed zone (which I’ll report on in a separate entry), and the WTA All Access Hour (a time — in this case, Monday at noon — when the top eight seeds were all present for interviews, prior to their opening matches), as well as “one on ones” (interviews between an individual journalist and an individual player) and other configurations.

Jelena Jankovic

The scheduling and location of press conferences is dictated in part by the requests submitted to the ATP and WTA before the start of the day. To quote from the instructions reiterated within in each morning’s e-mail from the media center manager (Pete Holtermann), “Each request should clearly state if the interview is for match coverage or for a feature interview, and if the request is win-only or win/lose.” The WTA interview form also specifically asks the requestor to indicate the need-by time, the duration of the interview, and the subject of the interview. The ATP fields requests primarily via e-mail.

Near the end of the first Saturday (i.e., the first day of quals), the Sunday schedule of pre-main-draw press conferences was released, with Isner scheduled for 2 p.m., Murray for 2:30 p.m., Djokovic at 2:45 p.m., and Azarenka at 4 p.m. When these conferences took place, there were also second-round qualifying matches taking place on six courts, as well as practice sessions on eight other courts. On Monday and beyond, the day session featured main draw matches on eight courts and practices on all the courts. In other words, there were times when I wanted to be in fifteen or sixteen places all at once. Since that wasn’t feasible, I sketched out Plans A, B, and C in my notebook and revised them on the fly throughout the day. On the first Sunday, this meant I caught part of Tomic vs. Ebden (second-round qualifying), part of Goerges vs. Wickmayer, and most of Hewitt vs. Melzer (the first main draw match) but missing other matches in order to attend the Murray and Djokovic pressers:

Andy Murray

Novak Djokovic

The Sunday pressers were not transcribed, but on Monday, the ASAP team was in place:

ASAP transcriptionists

The media center volunteers distributed some transcripts as soon as the hard copies were made (“Anyone for Isner? Anyone for Ivanovic?”), particularly during stretches of heavy production (i.e., when the media center was populated with many writers, videographers, and editors hunched over their laptops, racing against deadlines) . Other transcripts were obtainable via the handout wall, where OOPs, press releases, scorecards, and other documentation could be found.

Madison Keys

Sloane Stephens

In the course of attending multiple conferences, I was able to pick up on some trends in questioning (and thus what those writers or producers had in mind for their features). A USTA writer asked several players about language skills. (Madison Keys: Christina McHale speaks Spanish fluently and she also knows some Chinese.  So I strive to be like Christina, but it probably won’t happen. . . . I want to learn like Chinese so Christina and I can start speaking Chinese in front of another person and just totally confuse them.”) A Cincinnati journalist asked every player about bad tosses when on serve. Ben Rothenberg asked several players about crowd noise (and when Ben wasn’t present, I did). Being a strategy nerd, my go-to questions were about court speed and conditions.

A preliminary schedule of interviews was distributed each morning, with additional interviews announced via closed-circuit TV (and sometime via intercom or walkie-talkie or volunteer walk-throughs) during the course of the day. Because the timing of 95% of the interviews depended on when a match ended (and sometimes on the result of said match), there were periods where I felt compelled to remain at my carrel in the media center instead of going out to the courts, the better to race down to the mixed zone or the main interview room upon the conclusion of certain matches. I also took to annotating my order of play in order to reconcile who might be available (and in what format) vs. practices and matches I hoped to cover:

game plan

My assignments were the top priority in my planning, of course. One of my tasks was to photograph Stefan Edberg. Having seen the Timberland deck packed to the gills on Sunday for a Stan-Novak practice — as well as fans lined up not only along the top rail of Grandstand, but along the edge of the Svensk Vodka lounge as well — and, having chatted with Cincy regulars who reminisced about a four-hour wait for a Nadal practice, I knew that I had to stake out my spot at least an hour in advance. (Not having access to the Center Court photo blind, I had concluded that a Federer practice would provide me with the best opportunity for good pictures.) The stands of Court 15 were already packed when I planted myself on the back row of Grandstand, seventy-five minutes early; by the time Federer, Mahut, and their people arrived, there were at least two more rows of people standing behind me, and I didn’t dare cede my spot, even though I could hear oohs and aahs of appreciation for the show Wawrinka and Becker were putting on for the folks actually watching their match. Part of me desperately wanted to see the actual match in progress, but another part of me was engrossed in capturing the interactions among Federer, Edberg et al., including the post-match pleasantries, which (among other things) featured Federer taking a photo of Edberg and a kid-minder on Mahut’s team:

1922

Federer’s pre-competition interview was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. On my way back to the media center, I parked myself in the mixed zone, since I knew that Stan would arrive shortly:

Stan Wawrinka

I didn’t stick around for the English questions posed to Stan, but I was still a hair late to Roger’s presser — he was already answering a question about his new racquet by the time I reached the third floor:

Roger Federer

The French broadcasters approached the dais after the conclusion of the English questions. As I left the room, I could hear Roger saying to the moderator, “Yes, we go back a long way…”

Roger Federer press conference

More reports from Cincinnati:
On the way to the Western & Southern Open
The Western & Southern Open main draw party
Friday evening at Lindner Family Tennis Center
Seeking relief from the heat
Proximity

Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein

Cincinnati had been favored stop on the tour since 1979, when it had become The ATP tournament. For years it was the only tour stop that contributed funds to the players’ pension funds. It was also a prime example of how a tournament could grow by promoting itself as an event rather than by just showcasing name players.

Paul Flory, the tournament direct, was a minster’s son who had grown up in Dayton and worked most of his life for Procter&Gamble. He had been tournament director since 1975, when the Cincinnati tournament was still the Western Open and was played on clay in a small club down by the Ohio River.
The tournament had moved to Kings Island in 1979, when the ATP offered itself to Flory if he could find a site with hard courts. Flory moved the tournament and had built the stadium slowly, adding stages each year as the tournament became a summer staple in the Cincinnati area.

The tournament benefited the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and a number of players visited during the week. Some took this responsibility quite seriously. Jim Courier went back three times. Miguel Nido, a qualifier, went around the players’ lounge one day trying to round up players. Benji Robins, the tour’s marketing-services coordinator, worked all week trying to encourage players to go to the hospital. It wasn’t easy. A couple of players asked tournament officials if they could get paid to visit the hospital. On Friday, eight players were scheduled to go. One – Nido – showed up.

That afternoon, the tournament got a bit of unexpected bonus, when Edberg beat Chang in a superb three-set quarterfinal and officially moved past Lendl to become No.1 was no small thing. Edberg was only the eighth man to be No.1 since the start of computer rankings, in 1973. The women’s No.1 club was even more exclusive – it had only six members.

Edberg actually appeared excited about becoming No.1. Remembering his twenty-four hours as No.1 in 1988, after the ATP staff’s error, he smiled and said,

“I hope this time they got it right. It’s nice that I can say I was number one in the world, even if I don’t keep it for long. Not many guys get there. For years, people told me I could be number one. I’m glad I made it.”

Tennis is a game that takes players to all corners of the earth. It was therefore fitting that on the night he became No.1 player on the planet, Edberg, a Swede who lived in London, sept in room 536 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Blue Ash, Ohio.

Regardless of where he was, Edberg was playing brilliant tennis. The Wimbledon victory had clearly given him renewed confidence. He won in Los Angeles in his first tournament since Wimbledon, and he won rather easily in Cincinnati. The Chang match was his most difficult. He beat Gomez and Gilbert in the semifinals and final respectively, without losing serve once. The score in the final was 6-1 6-1. It was over in fifty-nine minutes. When someone asked Gilbert if anyone could have beaten Edberg, he shrugged. “All I know is there’s no way I could have beaten him, that’s for sure.”

Edberg was feeling good about things, he even made a joke in his postmatch press conference. When someone jokingly asked if President Bush had called to congratulate him on becoming No.1, Edberg shook his head.

“No, he didn’t”, he said, deadpan. “But he did call and ask me about that Iraq thing.”

The most fun part of the Edberg-Gilbert final was the awards ceremony: it took exactly seven minutes.